On Saturday, the 5th of December, 2009 Artist Tom Estes premiered 'Blitz' in Gallery 1, The New Art Gallery Walsall, after being invited by curator Ania Bas to show his work next to the galleries principle masterpiece, Vincent Van Gogh's work, 'Sorrow'(1882). As part of the Estes' presentation, his work 'Blitz' was exhibited for one minute next to Van Gogh's 'Sorrow' and then photographed for prosperity.
Estes work, created directly in relation to Van Gogh's 'Sorrow' is called ‘Blitz’ a term which is a shortened version of the German word "blitz·krieg" (blĭts'krēg') which means "A swift, sudden military offensive, usually by combined air and mobile land forces." A recent investigation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (by Jeffrey K. Smith and Lisa F. Smith) found that the mean time spent viewing a work of art was found to be 27.2 seconds, with a median time of 17.0 seconds. So one could say that to 'Blitz' a gallery, is to 'vigorously attack', or try to see all the works in the gallery in one go. This modern phenomenon, is of course, directly oppositional to the 'meditative' quality that museums are meant to suggest.
The New Gallery Walsall, like nearly every gallery today promotes the accessibility of its collection “to the widest possible audience". Walsall is known for offering an exiting and innovative contemporary arts exhibition programe, but it is also home to a unique collection, donated by Lady Kathleen Garman, widow of sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein. The Garman Ryan Collection is displayed in a series of intimate, interconnecting rooms and includes works by Monet, Constable and Turner as well as Van Gogh. Despite the desire for museums to embrace the wider public the attempt to take in everything as quickly as possible seems like a cultural phenomenon that is still at odds the origions of 'high art' and the museum as 'treasure house and 'cultural repository'.
Estes attempts to tap into this inherent conflict and the centuries-old anxiety about the deleterious effects of culture on the emotionally sensitive. Through his 'intervention' Estes takes into account the subject and medium of 'Sorrow' as well as its physical proximity to his own work and the duration of the comparison. 'Sorrow' is comprised of graphic pencil, pen and ink on paper. Van Gogh saw drawing as a necessary, but slow task of building a foundation as an artist and of the need make a careful study of form and movement. He describes, in many of his letters, how he also used drawing as an outlet for his depression. Blitz, on the other hand, depicts an individual being thrown through the air by a lightning bolt. Even the medium itself, a series of photograph, suggests speed, as a recording of 'live' split second action'. Estes' slapstick comedy is a deliberate mitigation of surrealist shock but with the mad attention urges of a Play Station gamer. However, the tone of imagery seems to have more in common with the traditon of late nineteeth century photography or film. The work, therefore, seems to suggest that a movement away from the slow and contemplative in the visual arts is not just a modern phenomenon. It was not until 1892 that the Lumier brothers began to create moving pictures yet Estes' work suggests that 'the representation of action' was already in gestation. By the 1910's, films like those of the Keystone Cops were an established part of popular culture and so the representation of 'speeded action' was only a few decades away from the time Van Gogh was creating 'Sorrow'.